2017

I spent Christmas and New Year’s Eve with my large family; we spent the time together checking things out at Lobethal in the Adelaide Hills and on the foreshore at Semaphore. After these very traditional local Western celebrations we spent some time at home marking the New Year with prayers and blessings for the people who have passed away before us in the process of time which is realised in ritual with my Nepali family.

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Towards the end of 2016 things were seeming more awkward and strange than usual for just about everyone in the family pointing in both cultural directions; the issues that were playing on my mind included my elderly mother having surgery a couple of  days before Christmas, my own mental health which can get hard to handle sometimes as well as the obvious caution on mind related to world politics and how it seems to be shifting in a darker unknown direction. A few years ago I wrote about the way things were not going to shift backwards. Then I took to creating images instead of words.

Certain people passing away through the year tended to direct my thoughts towards their work and fine tune my own creative thoughts I think. I also noticed how much time I spent inside the black box. I have been thinking deeply about a story I want to tell; in order to do so I must appreciate why I want to tell the story. Does it need to be told? Could I possibly convince anyone else to invest in the story? It amounts to a lot of thinking. What I call deep thinking. It is like meditation at times and very inert. At other times it can be like total blackout; visions. Am I starting to become unstable? How can I tell?

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In order to shift my thinking along I tend to create aids designed to help me construct what it is I need to say; pictures. I like pictures at the moment. I like the open quality of a picture. You look, you see what you see. You make what you can of it. You can caption it, detail it from your own perspective. I like that.

Being ‘inside the black box’ to me means being in relationship with a camera. Understanding there is a captured moment composed of content and elements.

In 2016 a couple of people passed away whom I see as part of a team I was very briefly involved with, and before that they were both contributors to a team that developed my creative thinking when I was younger. Vale to them and anyone I am unaware of who has passed; a lot of people I’m sure.

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Absolutely fabulous The Movie

Director: Mandie Fletcher

Writer: Jennifer Saunders (screenplay)

I have always been an admirer of Jennifer Saunders since seeing her for the first time in a Comic Strip Presents piece, and then many things after that. I think her writing and creative work on Absolutely Fabulous is genius. Great writing, so funny, so outrageous at times, Edina ‘Eddie’ Monsoon really was the character we had to get to know if we hadn’t already bumped into her somewhere on some scale in life. For me when Ab Fab came along the situation comedy experience exploded; Edina and her family were really happening and it was great to see some of that punk comic exuberance Jennifer Saunders had always had unleashed.

I watch the series when I feel the need to laugh; now I have Absolutely Fabulous The Movie with the deleted scenes and alternative ending and I am very happy.

I love this smooth ensemble working their magic on the big screen. The shift onto the screen has satisfied my desire to see more than the series could ever afford. Saunders creates a fun story for Eddie, her granddaughter Lola and best friend Patsy to go off and “Have some fun,” as Eddie puts it. Edina starts off perky with a book deal in her sights but she fails to proofread the dictated manuscript before taking a meeting with her would be Publisher and the day goes downhill rapidly.

Patsy stumbles upon some news that may help Edina spruce up her business and makes a call; unfortunately the call comes on speaker phone during a PR Lunch of the Month meeting. Eddie is vulnerable; not as vulnerable as Jon Hamm evidently, who makes an appearance as Claudia Bing’s newest celebrity in her PR stable. Seeing the Mad Men lead crowd surfing a party and coming face to face with Patsy Stone is an awkward moment, horribly funny as the blending of UK and USA television icons can be, in a good way. Australia’s own comic genius Barry Humphries AO CBE makes a big bruise on the film and along with the Kylie Minogue dancefloor version of Wheels On Fire, longtime theme of the show it is nice to see the overall international Australian blend.

Dame Edna stalked her way through Ally McBeal was it? Eddie and Pats managed to rifle their way through some episodes of Roseanne. The Trans Atlantic and Continental connections have been well established in the series over the years; the movie brings the payoff.

I think Saunders has provided a very satisfying personal development for Edina and some moments for us to share with her that are so much more intimate without the confines of a television studio and studio audience.

Where some television doesn’t translate so well into the cinema I think this has done so brilliantly. The tone, the pace, the ensemble feel; even a few cut-away moments that you’d expect to see on the television are beautifully edited in to capture a detail that tickles a smile if not a laugh.

Edina the character I know and love simply glows on the screen; she could sidle up to any one of the First Wives Club and knock them for a six; she opens up as much as ever while those around her are often so closed away. The dreaming moments we see, when she is surrounded by some fantasy are not so farfetched sometimes; she tries, she really does. There are some things Edina does very well, one of them being having fun.

We get a very good serve of Eddie and Pats having a mini-binge at home, we see them out partying, we get some family scenes that include long historical references from the series along with nuanced echoes of some favourite arguments.

There are lots of ‘names’actual names, not just the ‘likes of’ and happily from the series’ very heart, the world of fashion. It is the now fashion moment that gets featured rather than musicians or actors or politicians, the film could easily have become a parade of mindless cameos by people which wouldn’t have necessarily hit a mark. There are a lot of cameos in the film but I think they are all either seriously well played piss-takes as with Jerry Hall, or the one “it actor” Hamm, which also works in a necessarily awkward way.

I think this is where the film and Saunders have really excelled, staying true to the oeuvre that has already built the world wide recognition of the brand, staying on-point with the characters and exploring their world.

This is over all a bigger, classier experience on the cinema screen, even sightly awkward depending on whom you saw the film with during its release. I saw it during a matinee performance and there were long silences where I do not think the audience completely understood the references while at other times, often slapstick, they laughed along; lighting a fag after running out of breath jogging for example.

I think some people will inevitably find their way into the original series through the film and they will notice the difference between the two products but the characters all fit their medium well. In the context of studio recorded live comedy in front of an audience the original series is loud and raucous, compared to location shooting and filming sequences the nuances are subtle and asides more realistic, these things all work for me. I think if you compare Ed O’Neills performances between Married with Children and Modern Family you get the difference immediately in tone and delivery; likewise comparing Edina/Saunders and her whole ensemble between the series’ and the film.

When the series became available as scripts in print and on video to take home, I got them and wore them out. Then they became available on DVD so I got the collection. The film is on BluRay and DVD. I have it on BluRay and I have already watched it a few times; each time finding another gem, another moment that is a refresher from the past. It is like that feeling you get when you catch up with someone whom you have known over many years. There they are, in all their current glory. Love them or hate them you recognise them. Well I love Eddie and her crew, I think Saunders and her crew deserve a medal.

 

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focused on my own experiences

Recently going back and acting in front of a camera was enjoyable if not somewhat nerve wracking. I wasn’t expecting a call. One of my acting teachers Nick Enright always said, “Don’t sit by the phone expecting a call,” meaning you need to get out there and sell yourself, get involved, be creative and productive on your own behalf; back in the 1980s when Nick offered this advice things were different, no social media opportunities to promote oneself.

Over recent times if asked if it were true that I had been in a film I generally replied, “My last film was a silent movie,” because that’s fun and accurate.

In 2005 I played the Drunk Pedestrian in Dr Plonk (Rolf De Heer, 2007) a silent film. A fun experience with elements that nicely bookmarked my adventures in Australian Film up until that moment so if I had never been in another movie it would have been a nice tale to tell; how I had started with Money Movers (Bruce Beresford, 1978) and I think I met legendary stunt man Grant Page at Rolley Park Speedway on that shoot, and here he was overseeing my stunt in 2005 on Dr Plonk, very nice.

Rolf De Heer the Director was making the film by stealth on the streets of Adelaide, he’d had a thought that I’d be sitting holding a bottle on the steps of Parliament until Dr Plonk would blast past me knock me backwards as he did. Later as Dr Plonk passed me again I would be bandaged up as if in a cartoon. Rolf thought it would be amusing to bandage the bottle to my hand, as it was a fixture of the character, which all made sense in the crazy humorous world of Dr Plonk.

Grant Page was there to make sure I didn’t break my back falling backwards on the stone steps of Parliament and he was a little concerned because that bottle was a real beer bottle, not sugar glass, real glass. It was the point of some concern for Grant because I’d be swinging backwards onto stone steps and Grant did not want this bottle to smash in my hand, nor did I. Although I liked the element of danger because of the tensions a character carries; we’ve probably all seen the drunk who falls badly in order to save their bottle?

I have done some community announcement short films since 2005 but that was as myself or as a voice over so I don’t really count it as acting because it tends to draw from broadcasting. In 1987 at the Australian Film Television and Radio School I was one of a very lucky group of actors who were employed to work over several weeks with Ross McGregor and his students. We were working with the students to give them an insight into the way actors work. One of the added benefits of the job was being involved in day after day of workshops; another benefit was being there when Billy Marshall Stoneking was making a documentary with a First Nation indigenous artist and elder called Nose Peg. I spent a day working on some canvasses he was creating. Dot painting. I must remember to elaborate on that wonderful afternoon some time.

Yes, being part of the AFTRS course work was very much like attending acting school and at times like the National Playwrights Conferences or InterPlay the International Youth Playwrights  Conference at The Performance Space and Sydney Opera House in 1986 where scripts were being developed every day and people would be tapping us actors on the shoulder asking for a few minutes or hours or days to work on something. Extremely fertile ground; Ross McGregor offered insights that were spot-on with really good examples to go along with them, and being at a film school he would screen the scene or the film he was talking about and illustrate the examples he was making. One I remember well is some great advice about acting on film and thinking.  Using Sissey Spacek as his example in Bruce Beresford’s Crimes of the Heart (Bruce Beresford, 1986) a film with a stellar cast including Dianne Keaton, Jessica Lange and Sam Shepard, Ross asked us to watch what Spacek was thinking as she clutched her pearls for a moment in a head and shoulder shot.

 

He was drawing our attention to the actor thinking. It sounds obvious doesn’t it? An actor thinks in character. Someone may say, “Don’t over-think it,” and they may mean don’t fix onto something that blocks your natural flow or they may mean something else but you do need to be aware that as an actor in a frame that is part of a story you do need to have something going on in your head. Obvious as it sounds I think it is sound advice. There is nothing worse than seeing yourself gormless when you ought to have been on the ball.

When faced with the prospect of acting for film again I focused on my previous experiences acting on film professionally; for example, Bruce Beresford in 1978 explaining what we were doing in a scene and why he was slinging handfuls of pebbles around us at a speedway; it was ‘atmosphere’; or  John Meillon having a bad day on location during The Dunera Boys, conversations with Holly Hunter, Simon Pegg and Sir Ian McKellen about working on stage as opposed to film; particularly McKellen’s approach, ‘trust that you are naturally doing what they want you to do, if you’re not it is to their advantage to correct you’. I enjoy acting. It was all I ever really wanted to do and for a while I had the best job an out of work actor could have possibly had, I produced community radio.

In the late 1970s Liza Minnelli performed in Adelaide at the Festival Theatre and I went along. After her concert I waited to see if it was humanly possible ‘Hello,’ and yes, it was. I was sixteen and had seen ‘New York New York’ in its original theatrical release and loved every moment of it. I played the album at home on the stereo. I exchanged pleasantries with Liza, held her hand, gave her a gift. She was fabulous. I kept my cool but I said something without thinking, I said, “You were in Judy’s woumb,” and she said, “Yes, I was!” which is the best reaction I could have wanted. I hadn’t thought about what I was saying before blurting it out at her and to this day I’m grateful she was so gracious; Liza even sent me a thank you note which I think burned in a house fire in 1989.

Before I ever left South Australia I had met celebrities; plenty of local ones who were involved in the television production scene around the metropolis of Adelaide. A few international ones because Adelaide is not so big and back in the day there was no need to have security guards if you were Debbie Harry wandering around the South Australian Museum or Noel Crombie having a coffee in a café. People were far more approachable and accessible.

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When I’ve been the person in the spotlight sometimes I have had encounters with people who have been really awful, physically abusive a few times; the best way to be if you wish to make a point is clear and non abusive I think.

I say all this because by the time I was doing a stint in community radio, producing a weekly show, I had already met all sorts of really well accomplished people. I think part of coming from Adelaide was having the International Arts Festival and a semi-regular influx of engaging art to see, and the artists of course.

In relation to community radio, being interested in art meant there were always questions to ask; talking about art draws you closer to the various elements that make it, also having been involved in creating art, well it starts to become a specialist area after a while I think and you discover different ways of talking about it that help construct engaging entries into whatever art you are focusing on.

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This comes out partially processed.

 

It has been raining a lot although this is not the season for such rain.
There are times I have longed for the rain; deepest pleasure is listening to rain falling. Feeling alive, at ease if I’m under shelter.

Out in rain as a young man I swam through billowing waves watching pure droplets of water sheeting from sky blend with brine. Lightning over horizon reminded me of pages from the comic book adaptation of Frankenstein I’d been reading; a classic in comic form.

Drawings of Victor walking through a storm
hope bubble’s bloom
aspirations of  harnessing life
force of electricity, superimposed over the watery scene

I bobbed along doing my best to stay afloat.
Since then I have often thought it my most enjoyable beach experience; alone, inside the water rather than looking below it as Dali depicted himself doing as a girl child, peeking under the surface from the relative safety of the shore.

Here I was; there I had been,
swimming most dangerously in the meeting of rain to sea,
devoid of shelter; I love to see the rain fall from inside the ocean.

I have been part of a tribe of film makers. We are a tribe who come together for a period of time that is scheduled into a process of hard work and magic. The tribe agree to follow a leader on a path. The path is scheduled into a process of hunting, gathering and collecting. Once everything at any point in the process of the path is present and exemplary a step is possible and often when possible the step is taken.

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Obviously, we have been making a movie. We are not an actual tribe so much as a work group; thinking of us as a tribe helps, especially in the rain. I love standing quietly on location in the rain sometimes. I have two specific comparisons: somewhere in Victoria out of Melbourne I once played the part of a WW2 refugee being corralled into a rail-side sheep-pen on what was meant to be the hottest day of that particular year, we were making a mini-series The Dunera Boys (1985) it was the first time I had literally acted in opposite circumstances because while we were filming this sequence the weather was sleeting. The first time literally because it isn’t unusual to encounter this sort of situation in an acting class; an improvisation exercise that requires you to say one thing and do another, or where you may ask someone what they are doing and they say the opposite to what they are doing and you then adopt the activity they have stated. Meryl Tankard has a terrific exercise that requires you to deliver something in three different concurrent ways such as: Dreamily, Electric Toaster, Fire. Keeps you on your toes.

So anyway here we all were dressed in our undergarments including shoes and socks, meant to be having a break out in the fresh air as refugees and it is freezing cold. You act, ‘it is a very very hot day!’ and yet you are freezing your armpits inside out. I did not love that on the day. It would be doubtful that any of us loved actually doing that. We were able to shoot the scene because the sleet and rain would not register on the camera; Warren Mitchell and Bob Hoskins had moments to do in the sequence and it all needed to be shot so we were shooting it. There were a dozen or so of us in the sheep-pen including a couple of sheep for a while. I felt reasonably comfortable with the sheep because I had studied sheep husbandry at college and understood their perspective.

The sheep were not at all impressed with the situation but they were well tended and not over stressed in any way. The actors on the other hand were reasonably stressed simply by way of the fact that we were all so cold; otherwise though in those moments before a take, with my hand on a sheep’s back just between ‘stand by’ and ‘action’ sleet sounds so different to rain; wouldn’t say I love it. The second comparison is recently working on Rabbit in the Adelaide Hills during some big storms. So many rabbit spirits in the Adelaide Hills.

I read some Bukowski sitting around on location. His poem : the burning of the dream … It took me back to younger days.

This comes out partially processed. It does contain nuts because the machinery that processed it is full of them. You can link through to other thoughts. They do not always appear in any particular order.

October 2016

gov-and-me
His Excellency the Governor The Honourable Hieu Van Le AC and I September 2016

 

Rain, a lot of rain.

I have been part of a tribe

we have been making a movie

I read some Bukowski sitting around on location

His poem : the burning of the dream … It took me back to younger days.

 

Therry1970s

This comes out partially processed. It does contain nuts because the machinery that processed it is full of them.

I wonder sometimes how odd it may be when I start sharing experiences. We all have experiences we only really discover are unusual after we’ve shared them and received some kind of feedback about them. My mother recently told me to remember I am now, “an elder,” her way of telling me to behave like an adult. Fair advice because I don’t particularly spend time thinking this way and timely advice because when she said it I was about to go off and do something I hadn’t thought about doing for a few years; acting.

When I first relocated to Adelaide from Sydney in 2005 it was to be nearer to my father whose health was failing. I left a very satisfactory situation behind me, something I surprised myself by walking away from. Inside the work of Community Broadcasting it is easy to become absorbed by ‘the moment’ interviewing people for a reason, getting to the point, highlighting any genuine significance and moving on with the clock. I enjoyed producing radio and interviewing people. I enjoyed being connected to things I love in a cosmopolitan city. I enjoyed being ‘on-air’ and occasionally having the opportunity to do something creative on my own terms.

Relocating to a city I had long left behind was motivated by emotional family bonds. Lifting everything up and shifting it one and a half thousand kilometres away is a large step for a guy like me. In 2005 Adelaide mainly represented early chapters of my life that were packed away with sealed sections untouched. As always there was a lot of unfinished emotional business for me in Adelaide that I didn’t much look forward to encountering a la carte.

After landing in Adelaide I sought out a community radio station to become involved and hopefully continue developing my skills. I had started a Training and Assessment Certification in Sydney in order to become a Trainer in Community Radio and had hoped to complete it; I knew things would be different in Adelaide. Sydney and Adelaide are vastly different.

I wanted to get involved in community arts, to hold on to some of what I had left behind; I knew it may be a struggle. Moving from a big place to a small place means everything is less; less opportunities (less people). This isn’t a value judgement, only a fact. Adelaide has a great deal on offer, but not as much as Sydney. There were also quite a few grey areas in Adelaide for me, after all this is where I grew up.

In my relocation I started out with full time work which went well for about a year until reduced funding turned it to a part time job just before I was sent packing for making a rookie mistake, so I shifted from having some security to oodles of insecurity rapidly. I spend a little time thinking “What was I thinking moving back here?” it felt like I had deliberately moved backwards in time and place by at least a decade.

When I was younger I had no great trouble shifting from Adelaide to Melbourne and then Sydney on busses and trains. It was a no-brainer to stay in Sydney because that was where the work was for me at the time and it wasn’t difficult to go to Adelaide and do something if required. I do not hold a driving license but I could grab a lift or get a bus, a train, sometimes fly if I had to go back to do something in Adelaide. I bussed over to do some dubbing of my scenes in Robbery Under Arms at my own expense because I didn’t want to be dubbed by someone else. In those days it didn’t cost much for an overnight bus ride and my little turn in Robbery was important to me because it was my first role after getting the thumbs down from NIDA.

I thought being same sex attracted was the result of being abused when I was younger and I wasn’t mature enough or self confident enough to seek out help for the feelings I had.

 

 

I had not been invited to continue into the second year of the acting course at NIDA so I wasn’t really sure what I was going to do at first. I had lived in Sydney for a year in a share house with other acting students, Cate, Rosalba and Kris. I had known Cate the longest and had already been in a share house with her while working for The Acting Company in Adelaide. It seemed that Adelaide was where I should go after spending a few weeks on the road with a fellow student William . He and I had visited yet another student Gail, up in Queensland to do some travelling over summer. We three were all waiting for our letter from NIDA to see if we were continuing in the course (although I knew they were not asking me back to act). I knew I was not really standing out or being what NIDA wanted me to aim at being, which was more or less a happy sort of fellow, bit of a joker, potentially suave maybe; I was generally anxious and getting more so as time passed. I didn’t like my living arrangements, I didn’t like being away from home and I didn’t like being same sex attracted. I thought being same sex attracted was the result of being abused when I was younger and I wasn’t mature enough or self confident enough to seek out help for the feelings I had.

I dealt with my feelings by ignoring them mostly which was anything but conducive to progressing in an acting course. I am pretty sure I spent most of my time at NIDA suffering from post traumatic stress. At that time I probably used acting and involvement in the arts as a type of distraction therapy on some level. I really enjoyed playing a part, leaning lines, becoming a character for the most part because it provided me a distraction from reality which I was not at all fond of.

Things had not started out this way. Reality was a fine thing for the first few years of life and the only performance I would do was singing. I have fond memories of singing at Church when I was very young. I don’t know why, or who taught it to me, but I got up and sang ‘Jesus is my keeper’ when I was six or seven.

I have only done a few performances in Churches in my personal life. There was my debut at Christies Beach Church of Christ in 1968 singing followed by some performance poetry around 1978 at the Port Noarlunga Uniting Church, then it would have been 1998 or thereabout when I took a role in the Nativity as a Wise King (dragging a couple of aspiring actor friends along with me) which turned out to be one of the most unintentionally hilarious moments I’ve ever had in front of an audience. In my professional life I’ve performed in plenty of church buildings and halls over the years because the architecture lends itself to being renovated into a theatre space so well.

That 1998 Nativity was just so funny. I had been directing a play and teaching some classes and I felt a hankering to do some acting on a personal level. I didn’t really want to go through a big audition process or anything I just wanted to volunteer some of my spare time to being in something and treading the boards so when someone asked if I may be interested in being in a play for a church that seemed a good idea.

I was in a Nativity at Kindergarten so I knew the story. Evidently the Church of Saint Luke needed a Wise King which I figured I could do. What I had not realised was how big the production was. It cast a net all through the parish; particularly through the parish’s extensive outreach program.

David Jobling 1984
Potts Point 1986

I once lived in Potts Point beside Kings Cross, which was a notorious part of Sydney and created theatre at venues like the All Nations Club, Wayside Chapel and the Stables Theatre, so used syringes in the gutters, drunks, druggies, sex workers were all part of the landscape. The Kings Cross area was a fascinating place to work developing theatre. At one point I was focused on development using a process mastered by film maker and playwright Mike Leigh while I was living in Potts Point. The process involved developing characters with actors in an isolated one on one situation. I had used a very similar process with Bruce Keller creating Puppy Love (albeit a childlike universe the process was pretty much the same).

Working with actors one-on-one meant going out and meeting them around the place and talking with them about their character or being with them while they were ‘in character’ and chatting, taking a journey, with me occasionally side-coaching them from topic to topic. We could meet in a bar, at a shop, on the street.  This was a very interesting process; the actors were all more experienced in film so their approach was quite different in relation to classical stage performance; everything more subtle and interior, in keeping with the medium.

During a ‘development week’ at Griffin I had directed a staged performance of a new opera by Gary Cook ‘On this Kings Cross’ featuring Angela Toohey as a waif in Kings Cross getting mixed up with drug dealers and sex workers, previous to that I’d performed staged -readings  of work by Alex Broun and others that explored the seedier side of 1980’s Sydney featuring  sex work and drug deals, murders, misadventures  so by the time I was fronting up to rehearse a Nativity in the late 1990’s as a recreational pursuit I felt pretty streetwise.

What I didn’t know about being part of a Nativity in a local church was what became so amusing for me at the time, shameful as it is in retrospect; I hadn’t met the whole cast because there were so many of them. I appeared in a few scenes beside two other wise Kings; we had scenes with King Herod, then at the birth of Christ and another as we left for our respective Kingdoms. My companion Kings were two fellows I had met briefly at a reading one afternoon. One of them had such a thick accent I could barely understand a word he said, luckily his lines always followed mine, unfortunately he did not really understand English so he tended to wait an uncomfortably long while before he would deliver a line. The other fellow examined his arm continuously because he had his script attached to it with elastic bands. I always spoke after him.

It felt like being in the middle of a BBC Christmas Special somewhere not too far left of Dibley when the Virgin Mary had quite a severe lisp too much make-up on her face; impossible to any natural good looks. King Herod’s turn was the Diva of the production; played all his scenes with such a silly voice it was seriously difficult not to fall about laughing.

The whole show started with the parish Priest running in calling out “Jesus is coming!” several times which started one of my actor friends giggling because we had been reading through some of Barry Lowes’ work about Joey Stefano, where there was similar language used in a different context; but these things trigger thoughts some times, double entendres can be any actor’s sudden death.

Being reminded by mum that I am ‘an elder’ gave me some pause for thought; the way reading Charles Bukowski does. I focused on my own experiences, Bruce Beresford in 1978 explaining what we were doing and why he was slinging handfuls of pebbles around us, John Meillon having a bad day on location in 1985, conversations with Holly Hunter, Simon Pegg and Sir Ian McKellen about working on stage as opposed to film; particularly Hunter’s approach to working with steady-cam, being precise and rehearsing. Holly Hunter likes to rehearse the moves; so do I.

Going back and acting was good.

I enjoy acting. It was all I ever really wanted to do.

Yesterday was so warm and sunny. Today it is cold and threatens to rain again.

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With Ben Baker October 2016 ~ Photographer